Fashion photography is a competitive genre, so we talk to some pros for their advice on building an engaging, highquality portfolio
Collating your best work into an engaging package can be a challenge. We discuss how to get started
Fashion photography is a highly competitive genre in which to become established and to really succeed in, namely due to the vast number of photographers attempting it and how truly difficult it is for your images to stand out and be noticed. The field manages to be both niche and very broad at the same time – there are lots of different applications, but shooting style, professional working practices and technical challenges are largely unique to the genre. It is a hugely popular area to tackle amongst emerging photographers and while this means that it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd, creative innovation can be greatly rewarded.
The key challenges associated with fashion shooting revolve around building a portfolio of images with which to promote your skills and begin forging a career. It can be difficult to put your ideas into practice because of constraints on budget and lack of human resources, so ‘getting a foot in the door’ becomes a problem far earlier than in other areas of professional photography. Firstly there is the lack of access to lighting equipment and studio space to contend with; studio lighting is arguably essential for pro-level results, with many lighting styles impractical to create using home-made or improvised gear. Building an entire studio system is unrealistically expensive for most beginners in the field. Furthermore, studios often cater for large-scale shoots, meaning you have to rent an entire space and absorb the associated outlay. Secondly, without money or influence, models for your fashion shoots can be hard to come by. Professional models can not be sourced cheaply, so even if you have the gear, you may have no subjects. You also have to consider props, clothing and make-up, plus make-up artists, without which your images can’t represent a range of subject matter for your portfolio.
There are solutions to these problems. A starting point for finding subjects is to search
online for local models who do not have to travel, limiting these expenses. Aspiring models may work under a TFP (Time For Prints) agreement, whereby they give their time to pose for you and receive free images for their portfolio in return. Always agree on the details before conducting your shoot to prevent conflicts. Be prepared to work for free on other jobs too; exposure of your work and networking opportunities are likely worth more to you than a fee at this stage. To source low-cost or free hair and make-up artists, check local universities and colleges for students who seek real-world work experience. Consider interning at a studio yourself, as this will introduce you to pro-level photographers and models who may spot your talent and agree to work with you in the future. You may be given secondary photographer duties which will give you the opportunity to shoot well-known names and brands, using a full range of camera and lighting kit. You should also investigate the possibility of collaborating with other photographers who have similar requirements. This can help to spread the cost of hiring equipment, models and studio space, as well as giving you the chance to share creative ideas.
Producing a quality portfolio of fashion photos may initially seem like an uphill struggle, but the experience you gain at this early stage is invaluable when you start shooting paid commissions.